Reports of alleged communist plans to seize control of Malaya – whether propaganda or otherwise - were reported immediately prior to the start of the Malaya Emergency.

Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960

Post-war Malaya was a country with a complex cultural mix, born of a history of seafaring migration and British colonial rule for over a century. This contributed to an unstable environment after the defeat of the occupying Japanese forces. On 18 June 1948, long-standing ill-will between the minority colonial British government and the Malayan Chinese spilled over after guerrillas assassinated three European plantation managers in the northern state of Perak.
The British immediately declared a State of Emergency in Malaya; hence the name “Malayan Emergency”.

Years Active

Australians Wounded

Australians Killed
The Emergency was a conflict between guerrillas of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and the British Commonwealth. The guerrillas, most of whom were Malayan Chinese, were seeking to overthrow the British colonial administration in Malaya. The MCP was able to draw on the support of many disaffected Malayan Chinese who were suffering harsh post-war economic conditions and were upset that British promises of an easier path to full Malayan citizenship had not been fulfilled.

No.1 Squadron RAAF crew in front of their Avro Lincoln Bomber after returning from a bombing mission over the Malaya jungle during the 1950’s.

The Australian Government was cautious against another military commitment in support of Britain so soon after the end of WW2 and was also about to make a military commitment with the United States in the war on the Korean peninsula. However, Prime Minister Menzies eventually responded to the British request for Australian assistance in 1950 with the arrival of RAAF aircraft and personnel in Singapore for deployment on cargo runs, troop movements, paratroop and propaganda leaflet drops in Malaya.

The assassination of the British High Commissioner in 1951 galvanised British resolve to meet the threat. In turn, he Malayan government – effectively a satellite British administration – stepped up counter-insurgency measures. There is a view that from this point the MCP began to think that moving to a full-scale guerrilla war had been a mistake. From the mid-1950s, MCP leaders such as Chin Peng realised that they could not win and began to press for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Peace talks commencing in December 1955 failed, not least because of the strong stance taken by British-backed Malayan representatives such as Tunku Abdul Rahman who would only consider an unconditional surrender by the guerrillas.

From April 1955, Australia had committed to participation in the British-led Far East Strategic Reserve. The FESR’s primary role was to protect British Commonwealth interests in S.E.Asia against communist forces. Australian ground troops arrived in Penang in October 1955. Overlapping with the ultimately unsuccessful peace negotiations, formal operations commenced in January 1956 as part of 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade and spanned the next 20 months mainly in Perak, which was one of the main areas of communist activity.

Australia also provided naval, artillery and engineering support, and an airfield construction squadron built the main runway for the air force base at Butterworth.
Malaya became an independent federation in August 1957 with Tunku Abdul Rahman as Prime Minister. At this point the avowed anti-colonialism of the communist cause became meaningless and the new government was now able to label the struggle against the guerrillas ‘the People’s War.’

By late 1959 operations against the communists were in their final phase and on 31 July 1960 the Malayan government declared an end to the State of Emergency. By that time 6,700 guerrillas, 1,800 Malayan and Commonwealth troops, and more than 3,000 civilians had lost their lives in the conflict.

Australian troops remained until August 1963. In September 1963, the Federation of Malaya formed into the larger federation of Malaysia, incorporating Sabah and Sarawak in North Borneo (East Malaysia).


Australian War Memorial: Malayan-emergency
Anzac portal, Dept Veterans Affairs. Malayan Emergency 1948-1960

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